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Sonia chops & changes for unity

Jan. 31: The Congress has effected leadership changes in the faction-riven party units of Kerala and Gujarat to forge unity ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Party president Sonia Gandhi accepted K. Muraleedharan’s resignation as state Congress chief to pave the way for his installation as a cabinet minister in the A.K. Antony government. The move comes in the wake of his father K. Karunakaran’s threat to break away and float the Indira National Congress.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said Sonia had accepted the resignation Muraleedharan submitted yesterday, but asked him to continue as Kerala party chief until alternative arrangements are made.

Karunakaran’s silence and his appearance at the party office in Thiruvananthapuram yesterday are being interpreted as indications that he concurs with the deal. The dissident leader is believed to have sought a Lok Sabha ticket for his daughter Padmaja from his Mukundapuram seat and a Rajya Sabha nomination for himself.

P.P. Thankachhan, a staunch ally of Karunakaran, is likely to be the next Kerala party chief, according to sources. Muraleedharan is believed to have proposed Thankachhan as his successor.

On entering the cabinet, Muraleedharan will fill the only slot available under the new constitutional law. The Antony ministry is 20 strong. Under the new law, the ministry can have a maximum of 21 members.

In faction-riven Gujarat, Sonia put former Union minister V.K. Gadhvi as state Congress chief in place of Shankersinh Vaghela. Gadhvi is identified with Vaghela’s rival and Congress legislature party leader Amarsinh Chaudhary.

Vaghela, who threatened to expose Chaudhary, said he would remain loyal to the party. However, he was not sure whether he would contest the Lok Sabha elections.

“Now that I am not the party president, I am free to expose those who led the campaign against me,” said Vaghela, who was appointed Gujarat Congress president just before the 2002 Assembly polls.

Gadhvi, a Union minister of state for finance in the Rajiv Gandhi government and three times Lok Sabha MP, is also considered close to Madhavsinh Solanki.

The new state party chief became active after Chaudhary launched a campaign to oust Vaghela over the formation of the Shakti Dal, which his supporters say runs counter to the Congress culture.

However, the central Congress leadership did not ask Vaghela to disband the Shakti Dal, but told him to turn it into an NGO.

Gadhvi is a non-controversial politician, but Congress members admit that he is no match for chief minister Narendra Modi.

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